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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/28/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 26
Table of Contents
Klaatu Berata Nicto (comments by Mark R. Leeper): I was watching the film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL again recently. I once again saw a scene that had always puzzled me. Just before he was killed, Klaatu left instructions that the Patricia Neal character should give the massive, inscrutable robot Gort the message "Klaatu berata nicto." The robot hearing this message would know what to do. The woman goes to visit the robot. He advances on her preparing to use that unexistence ray, whatever it is. She tells him "Gort, Klaatu berata nicto." And what happens? It has no effect on him at all. He is continuing to advance on her. A second time she says it. "Klaatu berata nicto." To everybody's relief the robot stops and closes his ray visor. This always bothered me. Why should the robot have to be told twice? It should immediately understand. This last time we saw it I realized what was going on. Yes, Klaatu tells her what to say and she says it, just like he told her. But of course she has to repeat herself. It sounds to us like she is repeating exactly what Klaatu said. It would. But when she tells the robot, it is in a thick Earth human accent. She has to repeat herself so that he will understand it. The robot is probably thinking, "Darn foreigners. You can't pattern-match on a darn thing they say." [-mrl]
Using the Internet to Choose Films (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Last week I talked about what I consider to be the sad state of American film, based on the overwhelming number of mindless action films we are seeing in theaters. There is a positive side to this problem. For those who choose to use it, there is a way that I find effective in avoiding the bad films. These days sometimes a good film gets by me, but rarely do I pay to see a bad film. The Internet has made access to critical opinion a lot easier than it used to be. Just as you might use CONSUMER REPORTS to read test reports on items before you buy, today it is easier than ever before to get the opinions of a wide range of critics on a film before paying to see it.
It is also a good idea to get to know the differences in film reviewers. Some people believe that there are good films and all reviewers and critics should agree they are good, and there are bad films all reviews should say the film is bad. Luckily that almost never happens. Once you know reviewers it is far more interesting to know who likes a film and who does not. If you know Mark Leeper likes a film that will immerse him in another world, perhaps a historic or a fantastic one, but Mike Scott likes characters and situations that are like ones he sees in his world, you can better evaluate a disagreement between Leeper and Scott. Even if you do not want to carry analysis to that degree, you can go by the sheer proportion of reviewers who like a film. In many cases it may be better to avoid actually reading the review until after seeing the film. I have some firm principles on never saying anything to diminish the enjoyment of the film, good film or bad. However, not all reviewers subscribe to that viewpoint.
Sites that are useful for evaluating a film before seeing it include the Movie Review Query Engine:
Give it the title of the film and it will give you links to nearly all the reviews of that film on the Internet. Prior to seeing the film I will just look at the ratings that various critics have given the film. MRQE will give the rating next to the source without having to follow the link to the actual review.
Perhaps even more useful is Rotten Tomatoes. At the top of each window at the site is a window to fill in a title, an actor, or even a critic, and a "search" button. You should know that next to film titles and to reviews you will see a little icon of a tomato. If it is round and red, that means that it is good. It is a positive review or the title of a film that more than 60% of the critics liked. If it is a green splat mark that means a negative review or a film that less than 60% of the critics liked. In the sidebars you see lists of recent and soon-opening films marked with their icons. The whole tomato theme is a little cutesy, but the service provided by the site is extremely useful. Their "Tomato Picker" is particularly useful if you are just looking for good films to rent. They may be found at
Not as useful on opening weekend, but for older films (like as little as a month or more) you can use the classic Internet film source, the Internet Movie Database. This site is so basic it was acquired by Amazon and it is part of the Amazon conglomerate now, but at no loss of service. It tells you credits for films and in the sidebar there are links to reviews. Users vote on films. If five or more people have voted on a film you can see the results. This rating is more like the "People's Choice" awards and are skewed in favor of recent films. But they are nonetheless useful ratings. I skip the homepage and go directly to
THE MAJESTIC (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What should have been a good film eventually goes overboard in overdone scenes and a surfeit of sentiment, much borrowed from other sources. THE MAJESTIC is one film where showing restraint and simply giving less would have been giving a lot more. This is a film that takes a firm stand in favor of the US Constitution, patriotism, military heroes, the American way of life, small town folk, and old movies. It is against Hollywood moguls, B-movies, formula film-making, blacklisting, and television. A rare misfire by Frank Darabont, director of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
The time is probably right for an old-fashioned sentimental movie. But nobody shows just how hard it is to make that sort of movie right as well as Frank Darabont does. He is a good director but pushes things just a little too far in THE MAJESTIC. You know you are in trouble when you have a sequence like this. The town's sweethearts have stolen away from a crowd of fawning town folk. You see them walking down the small town's main street. The camera turns around and you see behind them. What looks like the whole town is standing there having silently crept up on them. The viewer is left to wonder how they did that without making a sound. It should have been a tender and heartwarming moment, but it ended up overdone and looking absurd. Darabont did a marvelous job with films like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE. Here he is seduced by the sticky-gooey side of sentiment in a film that goes overboard with too many beautiful sunsets, too perfect a classic neon-encrusted movie theater, too lovable a town, and just too much that is sappy and overripe. On top of that Michael Sloane's screenplay shamelessly borrows from a diverse set of sentimental classics like the song "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" and Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife.
Jim Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a film writer who in 1953 is about to be hounded out of the business for having once attended a crypto-communist meeting. He will no longer be able to write bad films like his SAND PIRATES OF THE SAHARA. When it all becomes too much, he goes for a drive to clear his head, and instead the drive clouds his mind with a car accident. He wakes up with no memory in a small town that thinks he is a returning war hero, missing for almost a decade. Somehow that past just is not coming back to Peter. The film becomes a mystery that is not so much a "whodunit" as a "what'sgoingon."
The idea could have been a good one, but the film is incredibly unfocused. Is it about small town life? Is it about old movies? Is it about 1950s radical politics? The film is never very sure what it is about. It makes a lot of scattershot statements and never decides what its main point is. It goes overboard enough with its political message that there are scenes that not only would have become national news, they would have made history and would be remembered. The pity is that some of the statements it makes about individual rights in conflict with perceived national security could have been particularly timely and topical, but pains seem to have been taken to dull the more pointed comments. In addition the plotting only works by some very large coincidences that further erode the credibility.
Stylistically, there is a lot of frosting for not enough cake. Every time the two lovers in the film kiss there is a dramatic background to the shot that perfectly frames the kiss. Town's street has no dirt, no litter, and no bumps. They would have to mess it up a little just to make it look like a back-lot set. Everything in the town is so eerily perfect it feels like something from a TWILIGHT ZONE story.
Jim Carrey has become a reasonable actor, but is not one who does well with strong emotion or deep feeling. He is not the worst choice for the lead in this film, but there are certainly scenes demanding anger and great sincerity and those are not his strong suits. An actor with a great deal more talent and range is Martin Landau, who does nicely in a sentimental role here. Frank Darabont told me that he admired the film THEM! and was pleased to find James Whitmore available for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. It is nice to see him still using Whitmore. Whitmore is there for little more than small town color, but Darabont uses him frequently and well in this film.
This could have been a film in the classic traditions of Capra and Sturges but lost either the courage or the recipe. I rate it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. For a much better film on 1950s politics and the entertainment community see Martin Ritt's 1976 film THE FRONT. I refer above to Sullivan Ballou's letter. Those unfamiliar with it may find that http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/23.htm has a good account of the letter. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Love is the most subtle form of self-interest. --Holbrook Jackson
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